Thursday, May 31, 2007

Response to Previous Post's Responses

Well, I should have seen that one coming. Still, this is way better than when people are mad at me and commenting because of it.

For your information, I will be at the BEA (Book Expo America) over at the Javitz Center tomorrow on a one-day pass. Feel free to go up to women who look under 30 and shout "ARE YOU THE REJECTER!?!?" at the top of your voice. I think that would be a funny way to get kicked out a convention.

What about contests? Are there good/bad writing contests too? Or are all of them bad? I won one where the judge was an extremely well-known publisher in my genre. Should I mention that?

The general rule with contests is that they're bad if you have to pay an entry fee. Those are scam contests. If you've won a non-scam contest, mention it. Also, mention what you just said about the judge (give the name). Dropping names is almost always good.

Hey what about working as an editorial assistant for a college literary journal that is published throughout your state.

Not going to help you. Sorry. We have to recognize the name of the journal. And yes, we're very familiar with journal names.

Quick follow-up regarding unpublished novels: down the road, with an agent, mightn't that be a selling point? I mean, suppose you wrote one, wrote a second, edited the first, wrote another, edited the second, and so on, and at some point polished the first again and sent queries out. Assuming you're a good writer and find an agent, should you mention this? It seems to me that most writers--even good writers--have one book in them, or variations on one book. Having a bunch with long-term work put into them would, I'd think, be a selling point. Or doesn't it matter?

We don't care about the work that didn't sell. We only care about the work you want us to sell. Yes, it is a good idea to write a lot of novels to work on your technique. No, it is not a good idea to mention them. We just hear "I wrote a bunch of unpublishable novels!"

As far as short stories go, should they be relevant to the topic you're querying? Also, articles in magazines relevant to your topic? thanks.

They don't have to be and probably won't be, but if they ARE, you should mention it. As in, "This short story that was published is actually the first chapter in a novel." (Like Ellison's Battle Royal)

I do have questions about some things that I guess would be considered "okayish credits," if you'll allow that term for a moment.

-- An essay / op-ed column published in the daily newspaper of a large U.S. city, though not NY or LA. Include?

No.

-- Other articles / essays published in paying markets?

Not unless they relate to the manuscript in some fashion.

-- Published textbook material that's in use in classrooms?

Yes, but don't make a big deal out of it.

-- Working in the publishing industry? One of the blogging agents advised using this in the bio section, noting that it would convey to the agent that the writer would understand industry terminology, deadlines, the glacial slowness of publishing, etc. Granted, I didn't work in editorial; I did production and design.

Yes.

Rejecter, could you please clarify Bad Credential #3, regarding having the same job as your protagonist? I was uncertain what you meant by a job that isn't hard to research. Also, why should an author not create a protagonist with a similar background?

I'm referring to the Mid-life Crisis Thriller, which usually involves a character who has the same job as the protagonist. It's a sign to us that you might not be that creative. If you have the same job, don't mention it. It's a turn-off.

Here's a question that should be near and dear to your heart: if a writer has experience working in publishing, should that be mentioned?

Yes.

Is that "You sold 3000 self published copies ..." in a year? or ever?

Ever. Self-published novels sell really, really poorly.

What does an MFA give you? (Sorry, I don't even know what an MBA is good for - except 3 letters after your name).

An MFA is a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction, which is a bit like an MA except it's considered a terminal degree (you don't go on to a PhD after that). It serves to qualify people for teaching positions in English and creative writing at the college level, for which you generally need a master's.

How about professional writing in another field, such as technical writing. Does it work for me or against me (or make no difference) if I say something like:

Although this is my first novel, I've been a professional writer and editor for 18 years.

Mention it (it means you know grammar), but don't make a big deal out of it.

Your Bad Credential #1: lots of very competitive, "real" journals, don't pay. Anything. Or they pay you in a free subscription or a few contributor copies, or a token fee that--unless your story maybe is very short--will not amount to 3 cents per word. They also don't usually pay per word, but that's a whole other thing. Zoetrope or Paris Review, maybe they pay a lot. Agni, which I think is quite 'respected', pays $10 per printed page. Doesn't come out to 3 cents per word. One Story pays $100, regardless of length, and they tend to go for longer stories... and blah blah blah, I'm probably taking your comment too seriously or literally, aren't I? :oP

Taking it too literally. What I meant was, it should be a pro market, not your high school newsletter. Pro-markets generally pay, though this is not universally true.

Hmm. I've been on the fence about my one credential. I'm a staff writer for a website that does science/history articles. The negative side is that no, I'm not paid any appreciable amount. The plus side is that over this last year we've averaged more than 100,000 unique hits a day with some days topping 2.5 million.

To mention or not to mention...

Only mention if it directly pertains to the manuscript.

Not exactly a 'credential,' but would mention that I'm 17 years old be a good platform for someone writing YA fantasy?

I definitely think it creates strong marketing potential, the whole 'teen writing for teens' thing, but I'm interested if you think so too.

Oh, for the love of G-d, do not mention you are 17 years old. Feel free to submit, but don't mention you're under 20. Just keep that under wraps until we've fallen in love with your manuscript, at which point, we won't care.

I have to take issue with the comment about newspaper jobs. I worked at a mid-sized daily newspaper for seven years, so I know the crap you're talking about that can come out of those smaller papers. But you know what? These people are writing for a living. Most have a basic understanding of grammar, mechanics, spelling, etc. (I have firsthand knowledge that this isn't always the case, unfortunately). Working at a newspaper--no matter its size-- demands organization, time management, and respect for deadlines. I've always thought those would be good qualities an agent would like to see in an author.

An agent is looking for an author who has a manuscript that they love and can sell to a major publishing company. That is the ONLY real credential. Also, preferably, the author should not be a jerk.

Well, great. Being a former technical writer, having a BA in English and getting some "articles" in my published in my local newspaper ... was all I had to go on.

It doesn't matter. If you have a great manuscript, you don't need credentials. You'll be fine.

You mentioned writing for textbooks. I wrote a number of scripts for what then were VHS supplements for a series of reading textbooks from a top publisher. Is that worth mentioning?

Uh....not until it's the same subject as the manuscript.

I'm not an agent, but when I hear that an unpublished author has X novels in the trunk, it doesn't make me think, "That's dedication!" It makes me think, "...and not a one of them was good enough to sell?" It's like advertising your failures. Some agents, like Termagant 2's, might like to hear how many novels you have in the trunk, but I suspect others would be put off by it.

I just want to quote Issendai here because I totally agree with the above statement. Actually, most of the people in the previous post who've responded to other people's questions have given the same advice I would give.

19 comments:

bran fan said...

Thank you. This was very helpful. Honestly, we try not to be nitwits. We new writers simply think that any credential is better than none. Thanks for setting the record straight.

Tena said...

What about the opposite of being 17? Not literally 71 but, well, older. Best to let gray-haired sleeping dogs lie?

qtoybxd said...

tena -- Miss Snark (may she rest in Clooney's arms) always said age doesn't matter. Just write well. She had a good post on the topic on 1.17.2007, if you want to read it. :)

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Actually, the Rejecter's advice is contrary to some other agent's advice (and my own experience) when it comes to mentioning credentials and landing agent representation. Of course, she's speaking in terms of what her own agency does, but some other agencies will react to certain credentials differently. I know when I was querying agents for my first novel, I made sure to mention that I'd contributed to many newspapers and magazines (some large, some small), even though those were obviously nonfiction/journalism and I was querying for a novel. I did have a couple major publications (Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader) among my credits as a freelance writer, but most of them were small niche magazines and local publications. (I am also a playwright who has had plays produced by small theaters in Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and New York, and have had some of those plays published, so I mentioned that as well even though my novel had nothing to do with theater)

Even though many of my publishing creds had nothing to do with my book and indeed were not the kind of creds the Rejecter says she wants to see, I found that in almost all cases, it made agents take notice of me and ask to see more of my work.

Moral of the story: Having multiple creds in multiple markets/genres, even if they don't have anything directly to do with the book you're querying on, show that you have professional writing skill, versatility, and publishability. So I would strongly disagree based on my experience with some of Rejecter's claims that certain publishing creds shouldn't be mentioned.

The Rejecter said...

Jill, you just listed some major credentials. In all fairness to my argument, the Chicago Tribune is on a much different level than the Bumblef*** Daily.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

True, Rejecter, but I'd only sold 2 articles to the Tribune at the time (one an op-ed); the bulk of my creds were to small niche magazines and neighborhood newspapers. I went ahead and mentioned anything I got paid for(even if I got paid peanuts) as a cred, and it worked.

Unfortunately, even with agent representation and five completed books (and more creds in more major publications) I STILL don't have a book deal. The publishers all say I'm not marketable because I don't have an established media platform (i.e., I don't know Oprah, even though I do living in Chicago and have at least driven by her studios)

Rei said...

Tena:

Why would an agent find it to be a good thing that a potential client, statistically, doesn't have very long left in their life to keep producing new works if the agent likes the current one?

Manic Mom said...

This was a great post--thanks for keeping us up to date on the yays and nays!!

Have fun at BEA. I sooo wish I was going. Tell my agent hello for me! :)

Anonymous said...

Not to be too anal, but I believe it's the Bumblef*** WEEKLY

Anonymous said...

I suspect Miss Snark would agree with me here because I'm gonna quote what she's said in the past...that a writing cred, if it's *legitimate* (paid), no matter how hole-in-the-wall, is okay because it tells the agent, "Someone other than your mother thinks you don't suck."

I'm planning on quoting the technology column (which has nothing to do with my novel) with a colleague in my query letters, because we got paid and it's a legitimate newspaper, albeit not one you'll have read if you don't live in New England. I'm *not* planning on quoting the small community newspaper for which I wrote for free for years. The key idea is that agents WILL Google on your writing creds. An agent will pull up my community newspaper columns whether she wants to or not. She will also discover I wasn't lying about the paid technology gig.

Anonymous said...

The Rejecter says: "It doesn't matter. If you have a great manuscript, you don't need credentials. You'll be fine."

HOWEVER...

In many cases, agents never even get to see the manuscript. Some only want a one page query letter. That's it. How many writers can honestly say that a one page query letter does justice to their masterpiece? Seriously...

This game is about getting your manuscript READ, right? Because we're all pretty confident that if the agent would just read the damn thing, they'd see how brilliant it is!

Now, if bad credentials screw up your query, then take them out. The agent won't read it because they have been turned off by your crudentials (pun intended). You'd better use that precious space to really pitch your novel or put something else in that grabs the agent's attention. Otherwise, all is lost.

So, I have to disagree that everything is going to be hunky-dorey "if you have a great manuscript." You need that AND some way to get their attention long enough to request a partial or full.

Tena said...

qtoybxd said...
tena -- Miss Snark (may she rest in Clooney's arms) always said age doesn't matter. Just write well. She had a good post on the topic on 1.17.2007, if you want to read it. :)

Thanks,qtoybxd (what does that mean?) I'll take a trip through the Snarkives. I miss the old girl, God bless her gin-soaked heart.

wonderer said...

Anon 3:01 PM,

The late and lamented Miss Snark advocated always sending the first five (double-spaced) pages of your manuscript (starting from Chapter One, not the prologue) as part of your query letter. That way an agent might at least scan your opening page to get a sense of your writing, and if it doesn't suck, s/he will read on.

I'd be curious to know if Rejecter agrees.

The Rejecter said...

Anon 3:01

Well, yes, you have to write a great novel AND a great query. However, if you have written the Great Americal Novel, you should be able to write the Great American Two Paragaraphs of Description.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I'd really like Rejecter to comment sometime on how her boss deals with PUBLISHERS' standards when it comes to author credentials. My agent and I are striking out on selling my books (fiction and nonfiction) based solely on the fact I don't have an existing "media platform." Apparently, writing well and regularly getting published in major newspapers and magazines does little for your book-deal potential these days when you don't already have your own reality show or brand of perfume, or haven't committed the crime of the century---the kind of creds that most of the big publishers seem to want from any new author they acquire (or else they won't acquire your book).

angelle said...

wanted to clarify the contest thing - i feel like most contests i've seen have some sort of entry fee, even from journals like the georgetown review etc. are those considered scam contests too? i always thought entry fees were just standard, but maybe i just haven't been paying attention.

also, on that subject, aside from the HUGE journals (new yorker, paris review, etc), what are some publications that are more mid-tier but would still be worth mentioning?

Kim said...

Not all contests that have entry fees are scams. My local RWA chapter runs a yearly contest for unpublished writers that has a (low) entry fee. But it's perfectly legitimate and well-respected. RWA's Golden Heart contest for unpubs also has an entry fee, and that is the biggie for unpubbed romance writers.

Anonymous said...

All of the contests sponsored by RWA and its chapters charge a fee.
None of them are scams.
Other than that I think this was a great round up of advice.
Thanks for taking the time
cmr

Anonymous said...

Just an FYI, almost all legitimate and respected contests for literary fiction have an entry fee. That's how they get the prize money. If you're not familiar with the respected markets/companies that run these contests, you'll have to do a little research to be sure you're sending that $15 entry fee to a real contest instead of some scam you saw an ad for in the back of a newbie writing magazine. So no, any contest that charges a fee certainly is not a scam. But know your stuff and take the time to research.